So much for not going anywhere anytime soon. It appears I have a serious case of what Spaniards refer to as culo inquieto. So a couple of days ago I gave in to the urge, to get out of town and head for the hills. Just for one night. And by hills I mean the nearby flatlands and flat city of Salamanca.
I went with a couple of friends from Segovia. Both ex-pats (Nicole from Germany and Marisa la Americana), both experiencing the beginnings of cabin-fever in their new homes, both walking the same bread and cheese shoestring, and both with similar ganas (desire) to see a little more of Spain than the home-work-supermarket-bar route of their new lives (it’s a shame how many foreign students and auxiliares are content with this).
Perhaps because it was just an overnight trip, or perhaps because I’ve been getting complacent and/or lazy, this weekend was a bit of an exercise in how not to travel. For absolutely no reason at all, I stayed up late on the Thursday night…pottering about, drinking sugar laden hot chocolates, doing bits and pieces of everything except for what I should have been doing, which was packing and getting a good night’s sleep. And of course when I did finally crash, with the alarm due to go off in just couple of hours, I barely shut eye for the rest of the night. Fri morning called for a pre-dawn wake up, to wash my hair, make sandwiches for the journey, throw a whole lot of woolly clothes in a bag and make a wild dash for the bus. I dropped a glove on the way, and spent a good few minutes crawling around in the shadows (doing a very good Quasimodo impersonation) trying to find it amongst the cobblestones beneath the aqueduct. Not a great start… but in the end we made it with time to spare, and despite the cold and overwhelming desire to sleep, I did get a shiver of excitement as the bus pulled out of the station in the half-darkness…I love starting journeys in the twilight hours, for some reason it always feels that little more adventurous.
A snooze on board would have been ideal, but the (awful) music was up way too loud… and the scenery was so interesting I wanted to stay awake to see it. I guess you win some, you lose some. The bus wound through quaint little villages, and stopped for a while in Avila, which is famous for its incredible muralla, an ancient wall which surrounds the city. Inside, Avila doesn’t have much more to boast than a decrepit bus station, dingy modern buildings, and streets void of life. But the wall is very impressive.
Moving on to Salamanca, we passed through large stretches of dry, barren, flat land, a far cry from the verdant and rolling countryside that surrounds Segovia. Outer Salamanca doesn’t look too flash either, just some greyish box-like high rises – nothing like the fabled city of history and my overactive imagination*. The gloomy weather and lack of sleep did little to help these slightly cynical first impressions, but crossing the River Tormes did. As we got closer to the old part of town, it all came back to me.
This was actually my second trip to Salamanca. I was there about five years ago, for a short, intensive, and ineffectual Spanish course. All I remember is thinking the city was ‘pretty’, liking the bars, not liking my roommates, being frustrated at my inability to achieve fluency in Spanish in less than a week of ‘immersion’ (we all spoke English), and mostly just being preoccupied by a money transfer that had got lost in the void. How silly of me. Because Salamanca is truly beautiful. Fortunately this time round I saw a lot more, and took better notice of the gems it has to offer.
Like many in Spain (and all over Europe), Salamanca was originally a Roman city. As such, it’s bursting with ancient buildings and winding streets…history appears to seep out of every crack in every centuries-old sandstone building. Salamanca University was built in the 1100s, and visiting the original campus was one of the first things we did when we got there. We climbed the ‘staircase of knowledge’ (I’m yet to notice any immediate benefits) and found the tiny ‘frog of luck’ which is carved into the elaborate facade (but first we spent half an hour in the rain looking for it on the facade of the Cathedral, my mistake).
So with little sleep or prior planning, other than ‘to find coffee and some nice looking buildings’, we passed a lovely day wandering the city, and serendipitously stumbled upon all kinds of interesting things…such as a second hand book fair in the main plaza, a civil war museum with free entry (always a “!”), a convent-of-the-cloister selling nun-made sweets (I didn’t buy any when I discovered there was no revolving door, just an ordinary shop where you could see the nuns!), and a donkey statue in a gift shop (Marisa really likes donkeys). A particular highlight (which Marisa had actually researched beforehand) was the Art Deco museum, held in Casa Lis, a magnificent old house from the Art Deco period. The exhibition itself was a little disappointing (too many scary porcelain dolls and not enough posters or furniture), but it’s worth visiting just to see the inside of the building itself. The gaudy-esque stain glass windows and roof are fantastic, and I think I could’ve sat in the cafe (overlooking the river) for days. And the exhibition did have some fabulous pieces, such as elegant bronzes of dancing women and greyhounds which made us all wish we’d been born in our great grandmother’s time.
I’ve not much more to add about the trip, other than it wasn’t really a disaster, although I did forget to pack deodorant, which is just plain annoying. On the Friday evening we caught up with another teacher who’s actually from Salamanca, she gave us a quick lesson in Salamanca nightlife 101, of which we barely took advantage (I’ll go to the submarine bar next time) due to overwhelming tiredness and some perturbing stomach sensations which were torturing one of our party. However from what we did see, hear, taste of the nightlife – it was thumbs up all round (aside from an overly friendly chef and the strange vending machine Italian restaurant). Wine and tapas were mostly delicious and affordable, and I finally satisfied my morcilla craving (not something I ever thought I’d crave, amazing how tastes can change). The hostel was great and we all slept sooo well, because we were wrecked, and there was heating. ¡Que lujo! What luxury!
Anyway, the real reason this is an idiots guide to Salamanca is that when I tried to upload my photos, I somehow irretrievably deleted the bulk of them. Devastating. At the time I thought they were rubbish photos, but now they’re gone, oh how I want them back! About 10 survived, those that had already copied before I hit ‘delete’. A couple of which I’ve added to this page (the ones of the frog and university facade are courtesy of google). Anyway, I was going to make a full album! I know I can look through my friends photos…but that’s not the point, I want mine.
O.K. I’ll stop whingeing now. These things happen.
So the upshot of the expedition was: it’s good to sleep before you travel, and good to sleep in warm places. Packing the night before is a definite must. Salamanca is beautiful, and old, but so is Segovia, and personally, I think Segovia is beautiful-er (something to do with the lie of the land). And finally, copy and paste, don’t cut copy. Yes, I am an idiot.
Sunday we had a delicious home cooked meal in a village 2 mins from Segovia, courtesy of one of the teachers at our school. And this was just as enjoyable as a full holiday anywhere.
*I’ve thought of Salamanca as a magical, mysterious place ever since I went to the Salamanca craft market in Hobart, Tasmania. There I bought a burgundy grandpa hat as a memento of my first ever ‘overseas’ trip. I used to call it my ‘on the road again’ hat, it’s a shame that I left it back home in Australia and never actually took it on the road with me!